News Corp columnist says cardinal’s testimony at royal commission will ‘stain his reputation forever’ and the case against him is ‘damning’
News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt, a staunch defender of Cardinal George Pell, has declared the Catholic cleric’s evidence at the royal commission on Tuesday “disastrous” and the case against him “very damning”.
In a dramatic reversal of his consistent defence of Pell, the Herald Sun commentator now says the Vatican’s finance chief was either lying or “dangerously indifferent” to the fact children were being raped.George Pell wasn't much interested in stories of abuse by priests.
On Tuesday afternoon Bolt stunned viewers when he told Sky News Australia that he had just witnessed Pell’s cross-examination in the hearing room in Rome and it was “terrible” and his image was forever damaged.
Under cross-examination by Gail Furness SC, counsel assisting the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, Pell said he hadn’t asked about Gerald Ridsdale’s crimes: “It was a sad story and of not much interest to me. I had no reason to turn my mind to the evils Ridsdale had perpetrated.”
Outside the hearing room in Rome where Bolt is reporting for Sky News he said: “Those words about the Ridsdale case – where George Pell said that it was a sad story but it was not of interest to me – I just think those will be hung around his neck for the rest of his career.
“Whether or not he directly knew – and the case against him is circumstantial – did he actually do what was necessary for any moral person and pursue the interests of the children being abused? And on that ground I think the case against him is very damning.”
Sky News contributor Andrew Bolt's take on Cardinal Pell's testimony today. https://t.co/ymBOQ1To3x
It was an about-face from his earlier comments on Sky when he said: “One would hope that this inquiry can go forward in the spirit of actually finding the truth, not being a witch hunt and perhaps giving George Pell more benefit of the doubt than a lot of media has given him.”
Last month Bolt wrote that Pell was the victim “of one of the most vicious witch hunts to disgrace this country. It is shameful. Disgusting. Frightening”.
“People pretending to be moral have competed with each other to slime Pell as the defender of paedophiles, if not a paedophile himself.”
But witnessing Pell’s testimony first-hand profoundly changed Bolt’s previous view of the cardinal as a victim of the media and later on Tuesday evening he reiterated his response, telling Steve Price on 2GB that it was “a shocker” and it appeared the royal commission didn’t believe Pell’s evidence.
“I think it’s a disaster I really do,” Bolt told Price. “I thought it was awful and in once sense it was so awful because it fit into the narrative but it also seems to confirm a pattern … that he hadn’t picked up hints.
“Either he is lying when he said he never knew ... was never told or that he wasn’t diligent in following up the kind of clues that were picked up by a number of other people.”
Bolt continued his theme in his Herald Sun column on Wednesday morning, writing that Pell’s words would “stain his reputation forever”.
“Here is the question now for the royal commission into sex abuse of children: is the Vatican’s third-most powerful leader a liar when he says he never knew what Ridsdale, his colleague, was doing in Ballarat?” Bolt wrote.
“Or was he just dangerously indifferent to his responsibilities and to the warning signs that children were being raped?
Andrew Bolt lashes out at Herald Sun reporter over George Pell story
“But the devastating admission drawn from Pell by Gail Furness SC, counsel assisting the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, was that he never bothered to ask.
“Now a royal commission seems poised to consider whether this prince of the Catholic church is a liar.”
However, Bolt now seems to be clawing back some of his harshest criticism. Appearing on Sky on Wednesday morning Bolt said it was an exaggeration to interpret Pell’s evidence as proof that he didn’t care about children; and he explained what he thought Pell “meant to say”.
“For the first time in my life I am trending positive on Twitter and you know what I feel embarrassed because I think I’ve joined the pack attacking Pell,” Bolt said.
“What he [Pell] seems to have said, meant to say, was that he had no reason to look at what was happening in that parish of Inglewood by Gerard Ridsdale and as a result, those things slipped his mind.”
According to 2GB’s Price, Bolt has secured “an exclusive, one-on-one interview with Cardinal Pell” which will air on Friday morning on 2GB and Sky News.